/ 2 March 2012

Am I an ungrateful feminist?

Until now I have been conditioned by the underlying principles that governed my upbringing in a home run by a matriarch as well as a girls’ school education. Despite my father’s omnipresence, my mother ran our home from a plinth of propriety, with the precision of a commandant and the eye of a sentry. My primary- school principal was an extension of my mother’s military resolve, but she taught with a toothy smile and the warmth of a mother bird. She made us want to be good children.

From an early age, the dichotomous influence of these matriarchs instilled in me the idea that men were nice to have, but we didn’t really need them.

In addition to this, I was reared during the feminist heyday in South Africa, when being a woman was overly ­celebrated, equality constantly encouraged and women’s rights championed privately and publicly by all genders.

Subsequently, becoming a career girl in my 20s was made easy by a boundless sense of freedom, especially when I was working with and meeting scores of like-minded, career-savvy, confident, strong and independent women. The notion remained that men were great to have around, befriend, date and love, but I could “take care of myself”.

I do not know when or why, but I recently discovered that I have changed. My ideas about males, marriage and being this savvy, independent, no-nonsense woman have been eroding. I have felt like an ungrateful feminist for thinking, let alone feeling, that although I favoured the benefits of being a free woman, I would one day like to submit myself to a man. The idea comes from experiencing the world without any limitations imposed by my gender. It has been a position of great privilege and not something I have wanted to let go, but perhaps it is time to let another idea in.

It is a difficult subject to discuss in public. The idea of saying something like “I need a man so that I can be a woman” is not an easy one to acknowledge in light of everything that has been done to obliterate patriarchy. But I am in a position of having had most of the significant freedoms that women were previously not granted. And now my instinctive feeling is that, actually, I need to explore some of the feminine qualities I have always believed to be inferior. I want to know what it is like to be demure. I want to tap into the side of me that wants to be looked after by a man, be a home-maker, iron my man’s shirts.

Femininity and masculinity are in a constant state of flux. There are qualities that are inextricably linked to my gender and indispensible to my and society’s wellbeing. Without mothers ensuring we have stable homes, where would we be? I battle with the idea that we celebrate our mothers but do not want to become them. I struggle to see the weakness in admitting that, as the woman, I need the man.